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Obama’s Health Care Reset

Posted on Sep 9, 2009

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

After a listless summer during which his opponents dominated the health care debate, President Obama used a dramatic appearance before Congress on Wednesday to seize control of the autumn, the season of decision for the initiative he has turned into the central test of his presidency.

Having avoided specifics in order to give the House and Senate room to legislate, he piled on the details, openly battling the “blizzard of charges and countercharges,” out of which, he said, “confusion has reigned.”

It was a speech designed to clear the air by sweeping aside misconceptions, reassuring senior citizens about the future of Medicare, and insisting that the alternative to reform was a steady deterioration in the coverage Americans currently enjoy.

He also hit back hard against distortions and outright lies. “Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics,” Obama declared. “Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge.”

By joining specifics, a powerful moral argument and an unapologetic defense of government’s role in promoting social justice, the president sought to rescue the health care debate from the mire of a congressional system that has encouraged delay and obstruction. By putting himself on the line, he sought to restore his reputation for political mastery and rekindle some of the magic he had conjured during a presidential campaign built on the expansive themes of change and hope.

He offered a robust defense of a public option giving the uninsured a government-backed alternative to private coverage. But he insisted that the public option had come to play too large a role in the debate, suggesting he would accept alternatives such as a “trigger” that would activate the option only if private insurance companies failed to provide sufficiently affordable policies.

Obama’s target audiences were diverse: liberal activists and members of Congress, moderate rank-and-file voters and a few Republican senators—above all Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, his most likely ally in a party that has broadly rejected his overtures.

In the last month or so, Obama has seen the first signs of rebellion by liberals who think their support has been taken for granted. The administration’s failure to agree with the left’s view of the public option as the centerpiece of reform turned a dry policy idea into a potent symbol and a rallying point for progressive disgruntlement.

So the president sought to revive the enthusiasm of his base by insisting that his principles, including his belief in the public plan, remained intact and that any compromises would be undertaken with an eye toward advancing his, and their, larger purposes.

Invoking the memory of Ted Kennedy’s lifelong commitment to the quest for universal coverage, he sought to convince progressives that it would be a catastrophic mistake to lose a chance to achieve a central liberal purpose first voiced by Theodore Roosevelt.

To moderate voters, he argued that the whole point of change was to answer their own criticisms of America’s way of delivering health care. The summer assaults had led many Americans to worry about what they could lose from health care reform and how much it might cost. Obama reminded them of what they had to gain.

Reform would end the “arbitrary cap” on lifetime coverage and limit out-of-pocket expenses. “It will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition,” he said. “As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most.”

As for Republicans, there was an invitation to share credit for a historic reform and a potpourri of ideas that had originated with GOP legislators, including his 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain.

But for all of the details, the most striking aspect of the address may have been its call to battle: The days of taking incoming fire without any return volleys are over.

“I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it,” he declared. “If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.”

It seemed as if a politician who had been channeling the detached and cerebral Adlai Stevenson had discovered a new role model in the fighting Harry Truman. For the cause of health care reform, it was about time.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group


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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, September 14, 2009 at 4:45 am Link to this comment

Now fishing is a divine activity.  I’m convinced if there was a god,
fishing would be on the top of the therapy list because it is such a
contemplative activity and gods have to think a lot.  Don’t they?  My
dad used velveeta cheese and minnows, I don’t know the species.  He’s
not around anymore so I can’t ask him but I’m sure he would have
known.  Such is life…and death.  I have a fine looking fly rod and a
couple of regular reel rods.  I don’t know enough about fishing gear,
but I have a hand net and a box of lures and some other fishing
paraphernalia.  I do know this, ah loves fish!  I’ve had fresh rainbows
from the California sierras and bass from the California oceans.  A little
butter, parsley and garlic, a little fresh cracked pepper and a good iron
skillet.  Ummmmm.  Now that… is living in heaven.  If we could only get
a clause into the Health Care Reform Bill that mandated more fish
eating….Wait!! wait a minute!  No, no, no that would mean the rivers
and lakes and oceans would become clogged with…..people!  Forget I
said anything.  I’m going back to McDonalds and I’ll contemplate the
world as I munch on a fish sandwich.  I enjoyed your reverie ardee

The political bombast is going full steam this morning with Gingrich
elocuting the current Republican drivel.  It is so apparent in whose
pocket he is dipping.  The argument he is giving is absolute bull shit. 
That THE AMERICAN PEOPLE doesn’t want health care reform, have to
dump the current proposals and start over again, yeah yeah yeah, oh
yeah.  What the hell does he really know about THE American people
who have no jobs, who have no health insurance, and who have no life. 
He imagines an America that is full of Republican wealth, he imagines
an America that have Republicans who do not need any help because
they have helped themselves to all the resources they possible can at
the expense of the middle class and poor.  Yeah, it is that group that is
getting forgotten here, the middle class, which is my class.  They are
the ones to foot the bill of those who are not covered by a public
optioned health care plan.

Yeah, let’s go fish’n for some sanity.  That is my rant for the day, so
I’m off, gone fish’n (called work, I’m one of the lucky ones that does
have a job).  Have a nice day, y’hear.

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By ardee, September 14, 2009 at 3:35 am Link to this comment

Off topic, and so what?

I believe in the old expression,” a day fishing doesn’t count against your span of life”.

I seldom bait fish, using soft body swim baits while drifting reefs for cod, and for drifting sandy bottoms for halibut and stripers. I use Yozuri Crystal Minnows to troll for bass in the Delta and , when the season for Salmon opens on the Sacramento River I will back bounce for them in “secret” holes using lures of various types.

Fishing is therapy for me I guess, been doing it since I was a child…..and , with the infestation of right wing extremists and bigots we see here of late, along with the increasing and unreasonable radicalism of others I need that therapy.

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By Shenonymous, September 13, 2009 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment

And what kind of bait is your favorite?  I would fish ardee if there
was a place to, I inherited my dad’s poles but they just sit here and
languish for a bass or somthin.

So in my spare time I spend it within the scope of my resources trying to
end the massive inequalities inflicted upon the world regardless of where
and regardless of whoever is responsible for the suffering.

Report this

By ardee, September 13, 2009 at 8:18 am Link to this comment

You are too kind, She.

My entire political philosophy is based upon the ending of the massive inequalities our current system of governance inflicts upon the world.

In my spare time I fish….....

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, September 13, 2009 at 6:05 am Link to this comment

ardee I’ve placed you in my pantheon of good hearts.

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By ardee, September 13, 2009 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

Ich habe große

I, too, have large concerns, She, and will order a pin as well. Thanks for the link

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, September 11, 2009 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment

You don’t have to give up “all” of the negative things you said about
me, ardee.  50% is good, I can live with that.  Did you ever say
anything negative about me?
  I don’t remember.  A languid mind,
what can I say? 

I am fond of the Truthdippers (as Folktruther and I hilariously now call
us residents, he by being drafted due to a typo of his, but I really find
it quite mirthful).  For the most part there are good intentions that
come through regardless of the antagonism that often seems to drip
from brows and jowls, and regardless of my incessant and sometimes
poissard scolding, and finger wagging.  It is a pathology on my part,
again what can I say?  In the words of Heidegger… Ich habe große

I realize most of us are very wrapped up in our own turmoils and
tribulations.  And there is plenty to be emotionally and rationally alert
to right in our own back yards.  But the sign of a good heart is at those
times when turmoils and tribulations are at their peak and thoughts
and actions extend to those who are less fortunate, especially those
who are very less fortunate.  Anyway, I am posting here a little website
that if you can spare a few moments to visit, you might be able to do
some good in the world without incurring much cost or committing an
arm and a leg. Also take a moment to watch the very very short short
Then dump the whole site if you are not interested.  I was sent one of
these delightful pins and I wear it along with my pink ribbon (for breast
cancer awareness) all the time just to raise consciousness about health
care in a different, quiet way. 

Gee, dihey, that is the first time I’ve ever seen firm resolve called
humongous megalomania.  Guess you have never been that firmly
resolved for anything.  Uh, I don’t think any of Obama’s “predecessors”
will be able to do anything, they be, like, uh… gone.  Maybe you
mean political descendants?

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By dihey, September 11, 2009 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment

Obama: “I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”

Nice rhetoric; humongous megalomania.

Given Mr. Obama’s plans he or his predecessors will have to revisit “Health” numerous times in the future to fix the glaring shortcomings in any of the byzantine bills that may or may not be passed by this congress.

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By ardee, September 11, 2009 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous, September 11 at 11:55 am

I think your recap nicely done indeed, so much so that I take back half of everything negative I ever said about you wink.....Actually I would love to see you continue in this vein on every heavily trafficed thread.

We may not always agree ( it would be more than weird if we did) but you got intelligence, style and class.

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By Sleeper, September 11, 2009 at 10:04 am Link to this comment

I myself believe that a Single Payer system is the only real answer, but rather then miss an opportunity to ensure progress I would like to see legislation that can be improved later.

The insurance lobby is enormous and must have all it’s unethical behavior exposed.  This may require time with constant pressure.

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By Shenonymous, September 11, 2009 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

Just a little recap, coming in late to the hanging party and all.  Second guessing is the forte of most on these forums.  So it is with a jaundiced eye that anyone with half a brain needs to assimilate what is aforementioned.  It isn’t a matter of ‘Let’s “US” wait and see what his genius does.”  We are coerced to wait!  We have no choice but to wait!  It is a tendency to dream that “WE” have any effect either positive or negative on what is going on in the echelons of guvamint.  The People are not a united front.  The People are a mixed bag at best and a zoo of opinions at worst.  There is no We the People.

Some here do make sense: Rodger Lemonde, Ivan Hentschel, Nancy Bordier, Ives, and hammeringinthemorning at least gives a way to pretty much dissolve the problem of a weak, if there is any, public option, and ender gives a good point. and there is ardee begging for rationality. But, if it is absurd, ardee, then isn’t it absurd to speak further about it?  tropicgirl neatly rehashes the finer points that can be put on index cards for constant referral!

Yes, You can choose not to have a car.  But if you do, bippy, you have to buy insurance.  So the point that there is no comparison with health insurance is rhetorically moot (and that is an understatement!).

Fat Freddy says, “At least with an individual subsidy, there’s some choice left to the consumer.”  That presumes a particular kind of consumer.  To whom exactly are you referring?  The faceless many?  Just another rhetorical argument.

The Republicans are screeching parasites and it should be a given at this point that they are just doing their thing.  They are united, they have their people, and they attempt to infect the common population.  What is to be done?  I see a few rational answers.  But who has the resolve to do anthing about it other than sit at their computers ranting away or giving vacant descriptions?

Republicans are predatory, carnivorous, raptorially-minded, self-serving, kakistocrats (meaning they are the least qualified and most unprincipled citizens in the population).  If more public mouths were to drive those thoughts home to the common population every day, these vultures of the people would be driven to the ground!  That is the way to affect government!  By actions after words, then more words, then more action.

You know the drill.

Jim Yell says, “I can’t add much to it except to comment about the idea of being forced to buy an insurance policy that will take all my disposable income and give it to the insurance companies, who have a history of lying and cheating, and then I want to ask what do I get for being backed into a financial corner?”  Well when you have to go to a hospital and you don’t have insurance, since you don’t want to have to buy any, (but it sounds like you can afford it, so who are you kidding), then the rest of us has to pay for your health care, or you die.  Your choice, of course, but for my money, you die.  Now that is about as altruistic as your piking on health care costs.  If you can afford to pay for your own health insurance then you don’t really need to be in this conversation except your are paying for those who can’t.  Again your choice, of course.

Charlee can afford $12,000 a year, and sees his neighbors who complain but yet spend on luxury entertainments.  So he/she lives in a well-to-do neighborhood.  So what about those who live in miserable and wretched neighborhoods, or no neighborhood at all?  Yeah, guess they can just die.
Nice, humane sentiments.

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By Cathy, September 10, 2009 at 7:21 pm Link to this comment

Read this comment in Rolling Stone:

Here’s what Obama once had to say about Hillary Clinton’s plan in a health care mailer:

  “Hillary’s health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance even if you can’t afford it… and you pay a penalty if you don’t”

  “Punishing families who can’t afford health care to begin with just doesn’t make sense”

  “Barack Obama believes it’s not that people don’t want health care it’s that they can’t afford it.”

This, the mailer said, was the essence of Change We Can Believe In.

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By Cathy, September 10, 2009 at 6:51 pm Link to this comment

“Tropicgirl: In short, the only way to do any of this fairly and least expensively is with SINGLE PAYER. The whole world has looked at this issue and come to the same conclusion. He really is acting more like a insurance lobbyist than I am comfortable with.”

Can’t agree more. 

And Mary Ann McNeeley, I agree.  And it’s amazing how many Dems are falling all over themselves with praise to Obama this morning.  Even Maddow, who has mentioned single payer more than once in the last several weeks.  I didn’t watch either Countdown or Maddow tonight.  I can’t bear to hear them praise this corporate giveaway.

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By Cathy, September 10, 2009 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment

Equating Obama’s betrayal last night to the for-profit insurance cabal, I would call him a Harry Truman, who LBJ called the real “Father of Medicare” in the United States.  Obama is no LBJ, he’s no Truman, he’s no FDR.  He’s a corporatist, pure and simple.  He’s joined at the hip with Rahm Emanual, and must have made lots of deals with his new BFF (as Wendell Potter called him) Ron Williams of Aetna.  Remember Ron at the ABC televised “town hall”?  Of course, Obama’s former doctor, Dr. Scheiner was supposed to be there, but I guess he wouldn’t back down talking about single payer and so he was dis-invited.

I could say stronger things, because this speech had me very upset and I didn’t sleep well last night.  Obama did not come out robust on the public option, IMO, and he immediately followed mentioning it with other alternatives, or a trigger (which most people who comment on this agree will never happen). 

There are other articles regarding the insurance company reaction to this speech last night—stocks up, full-page ads by Blue Cross practically parroting everything Obama said last night—before the speech even took place. 

In sum:  If the AMA likes is, BigPharm likes it, and now the insurance companies like it, well, you can be sure it’s bad for America’s health.

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By sgt_doom, September 10, 2009 at 11:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rehab time for this Dionne person.  The prez simply adopted Max Baucus’ exchange plan, renamed it the “public option” and screwed the citizenry while enabling a backdoor bailout of the insurance industry.

Insurance-linked securities, ILWs, reinsurance plus notes, derivatives to the max, collateralized risk obligations, the deed is done!  The billionaires reign supreme!  The rest of serfs had just better never get ill.

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By Blackspeare, September 10, 2009 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

Well here we go into the abyss of health care, Obama seemed to indicate some room for compromise and that’s just what the insurance industry wanted to hear—-their cohorts in congress are now busy revising the legislation.  The “public” option is just about dead in the water and will be replaced with a “private” option that has the US government subsidizing the poor to obtain private health insurance and the lower middle class will be forced to subscribe.  And like they say the devil is in the details.  In the end it will be business as usual!

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By SoDisappointed, September 10, 2009 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am with Mary Ann McNeely. The speech I heard was definitely not the one E.J. Dionne heard. The speaker I heard (who looked amazingly like Obama) was heroically trying to disguise his ‘gigantic subsidies to health insurance companies’ as a health care reform which is win-win for everyone.

Also this “reform” may be a back door privatization of Medicare: reducing what Medicare covers so drastically that so called Medicare supplement insurance provided by for-profit sector will have bigger market (see tropicgirl point#1).

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By Mary Ann McNeely, September 10, 2009 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

I must have heard another speech than the one being described here.  The guy looked just like Obama.

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By tropicgirl, September 10, 2009 at 9:43 am Link to this comment

LIBERALS have good questions about the “plan”, just as many independents and
others. My take after the speech was that it continued to raise concerns. Here
are some:

1. 600 Billion in cuts from Medicare? I heard this a.m. that Medicare Advantage
(the latest attempt to privatize Medicare) is only about 1 billion. If the rest is
waste, fraud and abuse, why hasn’t something been done already? And in the
same sentence of telling seniors not to “worry” about cuts, people like Weiner
say, rather casually, we might just ask people to leave the hospital a little early
and have home health care (which was also slated to be cut under Medicare).
Make sense? Not to me.

2. Limiting insurance companies from exclusions for conditions is fine but I am
not sure that they will not still be able to charge more and still make people
wait for coverage for pre-existing conditions. Imagine if homeowner insurance
companies were forced to take hurricane victims, after the storm? Impossible.
And I want to see the limitations of co-pays and deductibles. In all honesty I
don’t see how these for-profit insurance companies can still make a profit this
way (not that I care). Are taxpayer dollars going to subsidize insurance

3. Mandates for carrying health insurance will simply force 40 million or so into
purchasing health insurance or have their tax returns adjusted to reflect a huge
penalty. I can almost understand this if there were a single payer option, but to
force people to cover themselves and pay a private company for this? This is
NOT like car insurance. Of course, lower income people will be subsidized but,
again, the money is poured into private corporation’s pockets (to be used
poorly in bonuses and worse). And WHAT ABOUT PIP car insurance? It looks like
we will be charged twice for the same thing.

4. None of this can possibly save money, which Obama keeps saying is
necessary, but we don’t know who he is saving money for. And it can’t. For
gods sake, if you just gave everyone the trillion dollars we could all pay for our
own health care without insurance companies. Or stop a war or two. And
Obama now has a track record of shoveling trillions to big business WHILE

5. And there IS the issue of managed/rationed care. There is enough language
in the bill to warrant questions, despite all the de-bunking. Insurance
companies will be ENCOURAGED to do it, as the do now.

6. And what about American business? Wasn’t it Obama (and the rest of the
country) saying that insurance mandates are breaking the backs of American
jobs? So now we have MORE mandates? We know it adds about $3000 to the
price of a car. I really don’t get this.

7.  And the concern about undocumented workers makes no sense if insurance
remains private. All need to pay for their own. The concern arises with the
UPCOMING “immigration reform” bill that could legalize millions
instantaneously (like Reagan did) and then subsidize that many all at once for
health insurance.

Personally, this doesn’t bother me half as much as the job situation and
Obama’s total lack of interest in saving, and yes, even protecting, American
jobs and helping the American people directly, by reasonably limiting “skilled”
visas and adopting a sane approach to the open borders that we now have.

IF you want to be a little objective, I think it is possible that Obama much more
closely aligned to insurance companies (either himself or via Michelle and
Axelrod to name a few), than he presents.  I think his attempt to demonize
them is pretty slick. He is their major supporter, as he was with the banks and

In short, the only way to do any of this fairly and least expensively is with
SINGLE PAYER. The whole world has looked at this issue and come to the same
conclusion. He really is acting more like a insurance lobbyist than I am
comfortable with.

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By dihey, September 10, 2009 at 6:38 am Link to this comment

I am sure that private health insurers deny persons with “prior conditions” and kick out persons who get too sick. However, I am a scientist and cannot therefore judge the impact on health insurance and care which the proposed Obama plan will have in these areas especially when considered in the context of what a “single payer” plan would change. We are always given non-quantified statements. Are the new rules changes at the fringes or major improvements? At this time I cannot tell.
Someone in the Obama administration ought to know what percentage of all privately insured persons these two categories are. The secretary of Health etc?

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By tp, September 10, 2009 at 5:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s very confusing, as it always is, when a politician speaks. Even though I’m an advocate of HR 676, I found the option to be hopeful. But there are so many areas of disappointment from Obama for me to trust his sincerity or potency of his idea for the so called public option.
The greed pride in this country is just too deeply ingrained, even in the minds the average listener who desperately need change, to get an unselfish act through this body of legislators who are dependent on the culprit lobbyists (AMA, the big pharmaceutic & insurance companies) for their political survival.
I am pesimistic but hopeful that something positive might happen. I am, in short, a sucker.

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By Teresa, September 9, 2009 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beautifully spoken, Mr. Dionne. Great analysis. Thank you.

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By LostHills, September 9, 2009 at 10:37 pm Link to this comment

Dionne is delusional. This speech was nothing but the braying of a soulless corporate lackey. He spit on the base of his own party and sucked up to the insurance companies. The center piece of his “plan” is forcing everyone in the nation to buy private health insurance. He flipped back and forth so many times over the public option that it made your head spin. I don’t think this man believes in anything at all or has any standards, values, principles or ethics whatsoever.

On the campaign trail, I noticed that he told every audience he spoke to exactly what he thought they wanted to hear, even though he had said somrthing completely different the previous day. When speaking to the entire nation, he starts losing it because he wants so desperately to please everyone. But it’s nothing but words, anyway, and in the end it doesn’t matter what he says. He’ll just say something different tomorrow. If you look at the print version of his speech, it’s nothing but jibberish

Really, this speech was a sad spectacle. Sad for a nation that truly needs some leadership right now, sad for the true Obama believers (like Dionne) that have to find away to spin this meltdown, and sad for the Democratic party who are tied to this albatross. Great day for insurance execs, though, who are literally laughing all the way to the bank.

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